This is a collection of important essays by Henry Williamson on books and writers, first published in 1994, and now expanded. The first piece, ‘Threnos for T. E. Lawrence’, is in its middle section a revised version of much of 'Genius of Friendship' (1941). However the beginning and the ending are different, relating to the circumstances of 1954 when the essay appeared in 'The European', the distinguished periodical. Richard Aldington had let Williamson know by his letters that after years of research and reflection, he had come to regard Lawrence as a deeply flawed and mendacious character, very different from the popular conception of the heroic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Williamson, on the contrary, through Lawrence’s books, letters and two personal meetings with him, held him in the highest regard. He wanted to restate this before the publication of Aldington’s book, and hence this essay, which begins with an account of his visit in 1949, with Christine, his second wife, to Aldington in France.
Other contents are: ‘Some Nature Writers and Civilization’, the prestigious Wedmore Lecture that Williamson gave to the Royal Society of Literature in 1959, considering the authors Richard Jefferies and W. H. Hudson; ‘In Darkest England’, the presidential address that Williamson gave to the Francis Thompson Society in 1967, in which he describes his discovery of Thompson’s poetry in the crater-zones of the Western Front; three short pieces on Richard Aldington, Roy Campbell and Arthur Machen; and a collection of Williamson’s prefaces and introductions to books of authors whom he admired (Douglas Bell’s 'A Soldier’s Diary of the Great War'; John Heygate’s 'Decent Fellows'; H. A. Manhood’s 'Little Peter the Great'; Izaak Walton’s 'The Compleat Angler'; V. M. Yeates’s 'Winged Victory'; James Farrar’s 'The Unreturning Spring'; Walter Robson’s 'Letters from a Soldier'; and the 1973 reprint of 'The Wipers Times').
Also included are Williamson’s illuminating forewords to his own books 'The Pathway' and 'The Labouring Life', which were only printed in the scarce limited editions. The final piece is not by Williamson but is of particular interest, being the text of T. E. Lawrence’s long letter to Edward Garnett (who forwarded it to Williamson), in which he gives a detailed – and entertaining – criticism of 'Tarka the Otter', then about to be published. From this letter arose the correspondence and friendship between these two men.